This Boy’s Life


Tobias Wolff

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This Boy’s Life Characters

Jack / Tobias

Tobias, the protagonist, renames himself Jack after Jack London early on in the story and continues to go by that name until he is admitted to boarding school towards its end. Jack is a dreamer… read analysis of Jack / Tobias


Dwight, Jack’s mother’s new beau in Seattle, appears at first to be a somewhat bumbling, odd man whose devotion to Rosemary is both wholesome and serious. When Rosemary has a hard time deciding whether… read analysis of Dwight


Jack’s mother, Rosemary, is a kind woman with a painful past marked by abuse since her childhood. Rosemary often treats Jack as her equal, but doesn’t always fully divulge the truth of her feelings… read analysis of Rosemary


Dwight’s youngest daughter, who is the same age as Jack. Pearl is odd and unattractive, and though Jack initially dislikes her, they soon bond. Even after Dwight’s violence becomes so bad that Jack… read analysis of Pearl


At the start of the story, Rosemary and Jack are fleeting to Utah from Florida in a desperate bid to escape her abusive, controlling lover named Roy. Roy catches up to them, though, and talks… read analysis of Roy
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Arthur Gayle

One of Jack’s friends at school. A “sissy” who is often picked on by the other boys, he is one of the “uncoolest” boys in school, and yet Jack feels himself pulled towards Arthur… read analysis of Arthur Gayle


Jack’s older brother and a student at Princeton. Though the two brothers aren’t particularly close, they keep up a written correspondence and send short stories back and forth. When Geoffrey gets wind of what’s… read analysis of Geoffrey

Mr. Howard

An alumnus of the prestigious Hill School, Mr. Howard meets with Jack to do an informal interview during the admissions process and to advise him on the joys—and difficulties—of life at boarding school. Mr. Howard… read analysis of Mr. Howard

Mr. Wolff

Jack’s biological father, an aeronautical engineer who lives in Connecticut with his new wife. Jack’s father seems to make a lot of promises he can’t keep—most notably, towards the end of the text, he… read analysis of Mr. Wolff

Chuck Bolger

One of Jack’s closest friends in high school. Chuck is a preacher’s son, but has a serious drinking problem. When drunk, he is “haunted and wild”; when sober, he is kind, gentle, brotherly, and… read analysis of Chuck Bolger

Mr. and Mrs. Welch

A couple who own a farm not far from Chinook. Their sons go to school with Chuck and Jack—the Welch boys are all “sad, shabbily dressed, and quiet to the point of muteness.” Chuck… read analysis of Mr. and Mrs. Welch


A fifteen-year-old girl whom Chuck gets pregnant. Chuck is told that he either has to marry Tina or go to jail. Chuck refuses to marry Tina — his dreams for his future life are different… read analysis of Tina
Minor Characters
Dwight’s eldest daughter, a beautiful and sweet girl that Jack has a crush on.
Dwight’s eldest son.
Terry Silver
One of Jack’s friends in Seattle. A clever but malicious child, Silver harbors anti-Semitic feelings and enjoys looking up people with Jewish-looking last names in the phone book and prank calling them in fake German.
Terry Taylor
One of Jack’s friends in Seattle.
Sister James
A kind nun who teaches Jack’s catechism classes in Utah. She seems to intuit that something is not right in Jack’s home life, and attempts to help him and offer him a chance to talk about his problems, but he dodges her attempts to get through to him.
Jerry Huff
A vain bully who is one of Jack’s friends in high school.
A “big and stupid and peculiar” boy who is one of Jack’s friends in high school.
Bobby Crow
Norma’s high school sweetheart.
Norma’s husband. An obnoxious contrarian whom everyone in the family hates.
The housekeeper at the boarding house where Jack and Rosemary first live in Seattle. She eventually moves into a ramshackle house on the city’s outskirts with the two of them and a woman named Kathy.
One of Rosemary and Jack’s roommates in Seattle.
A shady man who briefly dates Rosemary.
A friend of Gil’s.
Mr. Mitchell
The civics teacher at Jack’s high school. An ex-military man who fought in World War II, Mr. Mitchell also teaches PE and organizes annual boxing matches in which the general public pays to watch the boys “beat the bejesus out of each other.”
Mr. Bolger
Chuck Bolger’s father, a preacher who agrees to take Jack in for several months after Dwight attacks him.
Father Karl
An Episcopalian minister who preaches in Chinook every few weeks. After Jack and Chuck Bolger get into trouble over at Mr. and Mrs. Welch’s, Mr. Bolger enlists Father Karl to talk with the boys, hoping that a discussion about religion will help them to stay out of trouble.